Diablo Immortal has been quietly bubbling away over the last year. The mobile Diablo spin-off was due for a public preview earlier this year, until the coronavirus messed up everyone’s plans. But as an early Christmas present, press were given a preview of the game’s technical alpha — and a heads up that Australians will be the first to get hands on with the mobile dungeon crawler.
Diablo Immortal is one of those games that’s been fascinating ever since its initial launch. The game was absolutely slammed when it was first announced, but that was mostly down to how it was announced and what was happening with Diablo 4.
Diablo Immortal itself has always been fine. My time with it at Blizzcon last year found that it was basically a mobile spin on Diablo 3 mechanics, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that! The only problem last year was that Immortal didn’t really have much of an identity of its own: sure, it was set in between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3, but the look, design and feel of everything you did was incredibly familiar.
Spin forward to 2020 and the game’s limited technical alpha — which is set to go live in Australia today — and Blizzard has pretty much stuck to that brief. In an embargoed briefing, Diablo Immortal lead designer Wyatt Cheng and lead producer Caleb Arseneaux took people through the design and mechanics.
The technical alpha will mostly focus on mid-game mechanics and the early-game phase, as well as acting as a limited stress test for the servers. There’s some things being tweaked for testing purposes, like a temporary reduction in the level cap for paragon trees.
Because Tristram won’t be rebuilt until Diablo 3, Immortal uses the city of Westmarch as the game’s hub world. From there you can venture out alone, or in parties, to romp through Elder Rifts (randomised dungeons), challenge rifts (randomised with a slightly different reward structure from Diablo 3) and six open world zones with unique trials.
The crux of the Diablo Immortal story is collecting fragments of the Worldstone to stop Skarn, the Herald of Terror, from summoning Diablo all over again. Fundamentally, however, the game will pan out much in the same way Diablo 3 does, just on a smaller screen size with different controls.
From a monetisation purpose, Blizzard stressed that it was a free-to-play game with cosmetic microtransactions. All items “will be self-found” and “must be obtained by … killing monsters”, according to Wyatt Cheng. All classes (Wizard, Monk, Barbarian, and Demon Hunter for now), all content and all of the game’s story will be completely free.
There is an auction marketplace to exchange items with other players, although it’s not a redux of the infamous Auction House from Diablo 3. Items can’t be cashed out at any stage, and the marketplace will only house gems, certain materials and supplementary items.
Each server will have their own revolving economy based on supply and demand, so certain gem types could be more expensive or popular among Australian players than, say, those in North America.
There’s multiple currencies, however, and naturally Blizzard has to make money somehow. One of the monetisation options is a battle pass that will be refreshed monthly, and you can buy crests that improve the rewards you get from completing randomised dungeons. You’ll also be able to buy stones that let you reforge items if you want. But all the in-game content is accessible without paying, and you don’t have to pay for, say, larger inventory sizes or anything like that.
A lot of Diablo 3 systems are being reused or reimplemented in Diablo Immortal, albeit with a few tweaks. The Paragon system, for instance, now has multiple trees that you can venture down.
Vanquisher, seen above, offers more bonuses that stack every time you kill an enemy. The Survivor tree is centred on raw tanking, with things like permanent life boosts. Four paragon trees were shown in total: Treasure Hunter, Vanquisher, Survivor and Gladiator, with Gladiator not unlocking until paragon level 101 (although this could change in the future for testing or balance purposes).
From an inventory management perspective, the screen is split into three tabs for easier management. It’s pretty clean and relatively straightforward. Blizzard’s done a good job making everything readable on small screens, and I’d expect Path of Exile to do something similar to this when their mobile port gets into the hands of the public.
Beyond that, Diablo Immortal basically does exactly what I said it’d do a couple of years ago. It looks and plays like Diablo 3, and much of the gear, randomised dungeons and mechanics function a lot like what you’d expect if you tried to make Diablo 3 run on a phone.
For a lot of people, that’s a pretty good deal. It’s less inspiring if, say, you were hoping Diablo Immortal would take the franchise into a completely new direction. But sometimes it’s good to stick to what works, especially if its your first time on a new platform.
I’ll get hands on with Diablo Immortal sometime later today, although given that I’m going on break, you’ll probably hear more from me sometime in January. Everything I’ve seen so far looks totally serviceable, though. If you wanted to run a quick dungeon on the trot or just before falling asleep at night, Diablo Immortal looks like a pretty sweet option.